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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2007 : CSR

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

The Environmental It Factor
An increasing number of celebrities are using their star power to effect change and promote a greener way of thinking.

by Tiffany Downey


It is no secret that we live in a society that worships hotel heiresses, pop stars, and every Tom, Dick and Harry who has appeared on a reality TV show. We follow the fashion and lifestyle trends of athletes and movie stars. We even have a governor who was a former “Terminator.” There is no doubt we have become obsessed with celebrity.

Despite vast scientific data forewarning the arrival of global warming, our own former Vice President Al Gore couldn’t get the public or government’s attention until he left office and took his message to the big screen. Now he, too, is a celebrity. Ironically, after starring in a movie, his approval ratings have climbed even higher than when he was second in command to the president of the United States.

We could look at this as a sad state of affairs, but it is unlikely that we are going to instantly evolve the masses. We’ll be smarter to take a look at the positive role the celebrity attachment can play to enhance our lives. For those of us who want to continue living on this giant rock flying through space, this can be a significant step in a positive direction.

As stated above, through the validation of the media, Gore’s documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” has made some serious impressions. With nearly $35 million in worldwide box office receipts to date, it is safe to say that his environmental wake-up call is effectively spreading. Since Gore’s theatrical debut, global warming has been removed from the “junk science” category, and was consequently reported by U.S. television’s primetime network news to be fact, not fiction.

With the debate virtually over, the message seems clear: Our beautiful planet is in jeopardy—and believe it or not, celebrities may be one of the most powerful groups left to save us. We need to practice sustainable living. That means we need to shift the ecology movement out of the granola and Birkenstock age, and make it part of the hip, modern lifestyle. Celebrities are the ones who can make that cool.

Enter Angelina Jolie pledging financial support to a reforesting project in Cambodia and George Clooney driving the ultra-fuel-efficient British-built Tango, and green is officially “in.” Last April’s green issue of Vanity Fair featuring Julia Roberts on the cover only confirms the trend of celebrities and members of the entertainment community joining the “green” movement, using their stature to help further the global cause for a cleaner and sustainable planet.

One Star’s Story
So, how do we really harness the celebrity of green to make a real difference on this planet? For this issue, we are shining the spotlight on one multi-platinum record producer, engineer, musician and former TV star who is taking the idea of sustainability to the core of his business practices. Bruce Robb, the man who gave The Lemonheads their first gold record and has worked with such great music icons as Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand, is taking time to put his rock-n-roll star power to use, turning his gold touch to green.

Bruce Robb came to Hollywood via the state that some might say was the birthplace of the green movement. In fact, it is very likely that the former Wisconsin resident is acting under the direct influence of former Gov. and Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the “grandfather” of Earth Day and initiator of some of our most important environmental legislation, including the Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles.

Raised in Wisconsin, Robb lived close to the land, splitting time between a working farm with horses and a house on Oconomowoc Lake where he learned to sail by the age of seven. He and his brothers were discovered by Dick Clark back in the 1960s as the folk-rock group The Robbs. When they were brought to Hollywood to star in Clark’s music television show, “Where The Action Is,” they looked for something that resembled home, and settled on a Chatsworth farm out near Simi Valley.

“We had an orange grove in our front yard and a stream running next to the house,” Robb said. “It was great because we would come home from taping the show and saddle up the horses and go for a night ride. It was probably one of the things that kept us sane living in the entertainment industry. The irony, of course, is where we actually were.”

What Robb is referring to is the widely publicized and controversial environmental contamination case against Boeing’s Rocketdyne, which was located in the nearby Santa Susana Mountains. The reported contamination of the groundwater and air, and the effects on nearby residents is still disputed by the rocket and nuclear test facility known as the Santa Susana Field Labs between 1954-1989. However, it is estimated that more than 30,000 rocket and engine tests have occurred over the years, and at least four nuclear accidents.

“Yeah, it’s insane,” Robb said. “You think you are getting out of the toxic pollution in the city to breathe the fresh air, and here we are living, drinking and swimming in the worst poison known to man—radiation.”

Robb declined to go into further detail, citing the fact that he still wishes to pursue a legal case against the company and doesn’t want to risk saying anything to endanger it. He does mention that two of the other people living at the ranch with him at the time have already undergone serious battles with cancer. Only one, his eldest brother Dee, survived against the doctor’s odds.


“It wakes you up, it makes you mad,” Robb said. “It makes you want to do something about all this corporate corruption and environmental polluting.”

When asked about the media and public policy, Robb had this to say: “It is one of the great things about entertainment and the power of celebrity. It can give you a global platform. Then, it is up to you what you do with it. I have great admiration for the Dixie Chicks because they used that stage even against tremendous political and career pressure, but they stood up for their beliefs. How can you fault that courage?”

Robb made it clear that he intends to use the power of his voice to effect change in the environment. It starts with the business he founded with his brothers, Cherokee Studios, the famous music recording studio that has been churning out the hits to the tune of nearly 300 gold and platinum albums for the last three decades in the former MGM Recording Studio’s space on Fairfax.

According to Robb, there will be a new environmentally friendly development on their historic site that will replace their existing celebrated studios beginning in 2007. The project will be led by RE-Think Development, an innovative real estate development company focused on leveraging high-performance building technologies and green building practices to build higher-value, healthier and more environmentally sound communities for the future.

Robb emphasized the other aspects of the sustainable ideal. “It is not just about the physical structures and material elements in our environment,” he said. “There is a philosophical aspect that is equally important: how we treat people, how we relate in business and how we make deals.

“We knew we had to do something different when we started this label,” he continued. “The traditional music-business model was no longer working. The truth is, it never worked. Technology just kept the artists from leaving even if they were getting ripped off, including us when we were a band. Where are you going to go? Now, the scales are rebalancing. And, having been an artist, I’m interested in creating a new, fair business paradigm.”

Finally, there is the eco-music tour Rock Your Planet, wherein Robb intends to take the label acts to college campuses. While using the platform of free concerts, he said, Cherokee Studios will promote simple environmentally healing actions that students can easily undertake. The future tour will be entirely sponsored by green companies whose products and policies are life-enhancing and consistent with the sustainable ideal.

“I’m excited to work with artists like our southern rockers, The Dead Rebels, who represent the new generation of stars who are willing to get involved to make a difference,” Robb said.

Lance Palmer, The Dead Rebels’ lead singer, spent time working with both Green Peace and the Sierra Club on the successful campaign to resist the U.S. government’s attempts to engage in drilling in the arctic refuge in Alaska. Robb said that Lance along with the rest of his band members are committed to being a part of the tour.

“The youth today really give you hope because they care and they’re socially active,” Robb said. “But, they are also still looking at us to watch our lead. I hope to do my share to be an agent of change.”

Tiffany Downey has been working in the entertainment industry for nearly 20 years. She is an entertainment business executive, independent film producer and writer who enjoys physics and philosophy. Downey is passionate about sustainability as an environmental, social and business concept. Contact her at mail.tiffany@gmail.com.


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